This table of the manners of different Europeans is very telling. During what is called the long 19th century of course German identity was being formed. There was no unified Germany until 1871. So this chart classifies the men of the merchant classes. It is telling that the German speaker is in the middle, for German's had an identity of being "in the middle" between the west and east of the European spectrum.
What does "being German" mean? What has struck me in searching about my ancestors is that they migrated within regions a great deal, to say the least about the out migration to places like the US. The emigration museum in Hamburg was very well done. Here the streams of millions of people from all classes of society, languages, religions. Some of my relatives may have come through this port.
There are many interesting emigration stories. But I have one of a return migration to share from my great great grandmother's diary written in 1915. The conditions on the boats to America were not ideal as this picture shows. Not much different then the description in Calcutta port headed for Hamburg, when the Germans were deported from British India:
November 18. On board of the Golconda, in the harbor of Calcutta. What days of unrest are behind us! And how much more restless it is here on the ship! It is hard to find a quiet little space to write.
The last day in Ranchi was trying, strenuous with all its farewells, closing of the business affairs, paying off the servants, accounting, packing the last dishes, etc. Finally, we were glad to sit in the train car and to leave everything, everything behind. No European friend accompanied us, but no officer either, no police bothered us. Only a few of our school girls had asked permission to enter the platform and stood weeping at our wagon. One old English lady, Miss Engle, who had faithfully stayed with us during the wartime, even though by no means sharing our national feelings, did not let anyone hinder her from traveling with us to Calcutta, “to see you off.”
The train ride through the night to Howrah was not bad, and the reception in Calcutta by the emigration doctor Banks satisfying. I had a referral for him from my doctor in Ranchi, which he read quite friendly, but which did me no good, concerning lodging on the ship and possible diet, because the cabin spaces had been assigned much earlier, and Dr. Banks had in no way thought to make a change. He did not even recommend me to the ship doctor as I noticed later.
In the train station restaurant in Calcutta, we were served a breakfast and heard there that the people from Dinapore and Ahmednagar would arrive soon also. O how I looked forward to the reunion with the loved ones! However, Dr. Banks wished to take us on board of the little steamship earlier, which was to bring us, all our luggage, crates and suitcases to the Golconda which lay further down the Hoogley (river) at the Kidderpore Docks. We could reach the launch by foot, only Aunt Uffmann had to be carried in part on a chair. On that little steamboat, an interesting picture presented itself to us:
the arrival and boarding of all our luggage, the by and by arriving of German passengers from all parts of India, among them our dear ex-imprisoned missionaries with wives and children. O what a reunion! How pale and hollow-eyed the faces, how slender and skinny the figures! And yet, all glad and happy to have escaped the imprisonment and be traveling toward the homeland!
The loading and greeting took hours. finally, we departed under the triple hurrah of the native luggage carriers, coolies, etc., who stayed behind, who most likely have been told that the Huns are now out of this country! And then the boarding onto the big steamer which we reached after a 45 minute ride. Unspeakable conditions! It could not have looked any different on an emigration ship from Hamburg to America. An overload of passengers, especially women and children, who all looked for their cabins, more or less successfully, which were only then given to us on lists. We found ours after a time in the rear, just below the screw, tight, narrow! And had it been only for me and the three daughters and Barbara, who would have to share amongst themselves the six berths, two and two above each other, that delineated the room at about one square meter, it would have been ok. But now stood on the list an additional Mrs. Michael with baby and governess, who were supposed to also come into this little hole. Truly a hole! How we should stand it in there for the next eight weeks, I do not know.
Doris had left her small town of Uetersen in 1871. But before the 20th century began all members of her family would have left Uetersen.
Back in the 1830s her father had started his career there as a master saddle maker. He moved into a street where there was a leather factory and other leatherworkers, shoemakers, and saddlemakers lived. How he had come to this profession is not known. We only know that he did not grow up with his family in northern Schleswig Holstein. Perhaps he had learned the trade from the wealthy people he lived with. In any case there is little trace of the family now in what was once the happy home of this large pietist family. Each child chose a different profession and moved to other places. Even the graves of the old father and mother and some of the young who died in childhood can not be traced. Two other houses are built where their two houses once stood.
While the branch of the tree that I come from did grow in a very unique direction through India as well as America, I recognize that the story of people whose roots are transient from ages past is a common German story. It is for this reason that people long to be rooted into something such as nationalism or religion.
Then again, sometimes the desire to root into a present place, people and culture means reshaping or even destroying the past. For instance in Uetersen all the remaining gravestones of the old cemetery were destroyed last year. I don't know why, but there was clearly little appreciation for the history those stones represented.
I know for most of us our family history is at the very best a mild curiosity. However, I feel that this collective amnesia about our roots has led to a numbness to our global connectivity. We don't have to go as far back as Adam and Eve to recognize that we are all of the same stock. Yes, we each have our own mannerisms, that i don't think can be so neatly charted, like the picture on top. We have those transient roots that connect us to real time and place both past and future. There are so many ways that each one of us hold the spectrum of east and west. Knowing our unique heritage can reveal our common humanity, and hopefully expand our divinely given capacity to be rooted in love.